NEWS
07/07/2018 14:02 EDT | Updated 07/07/2018 14:02 EDT

Man Accused Of Groping Teenagers At West Edmonton Mall Water Park Found Not Guilty

But the judge said she does believe something happened to the girls.

File image of the Roman goddess Justitia.
Getty Images/iStockphoto
File image of the Roman goddess Justitia.

There were tears in a packed Edmonton courtroom on Friday as a man accused of sexually assaulting teenage girls at a water park was acquitted of all charges, the Edmonton Journal reports.

Soleiman Hajj Soleiman was arrested last year after several girls between the ages of 13 and 15 reported being touched inappropriately by a man at the West Edmonton Mall water park on the evening of Feb. 4, 2017. At the time, Soleiman was charged with six counts of sexual assault and six counts of sexual contact with a child. The charges were dropped due to insufficient evidence.

According to CBC News, two of the girls and their mothers left the courtroom in tears as the not-guilty verdict was announced. Soleiman himself fell to his knees with his head in his hands, overcome with emotion.

Dan Riedlhuber / Reuters
The wave pool at the water park in the West Edmonton Mall, where several teenage girls say they were touched inappropriately by a man in February 2017.

Justice Joyce Lester said in her ruling that she believes the complainants, the Journal reports, but there was not enough evidence the man who allegedly assaulted them was Soleiman.

There were differences in the girls' description of their assailant: some described him as bald, others said he had dark hair. One described the man's goggles as blue, while another said they were rainbow-coloured and in a zebra pattern. Police didn't recover goggles on Soleiman during the investigation.

Lester also said the girls' frequent discussions about what happened at the pool could "contaminate" their ideas about what happened.

Crown prosecutor Laurie Trahan took issue with the concept that the girls, who were on a soccer team together, shouldn't have spoken to each other about the incidents.

"It's regrettable that the logical, rational response to being sexually assaulted is not something that the court appreciates," she said. "It's not at all unusual for a woman or girl who gets sexually assaulted to talk to her friends."

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Soleiman, who is originally from Syria and appeared in court with an Arabic translator, did not speak to media. Dave Trautman, a member of the group that sponsored Soleiman's family to come to Canada, told reporters he was pleased with the verdict.

"I can't speak to how he feels but I know what I tell him is the court system here is fair," Trautman told Global News. "He can trust it."

The complainants were supported in court by three biker groups who attend several trials a year to provide comfort to abused children.

"It's a nasty situation going through the court process and we're just here to try and help ease it and keep them calm," Vinny Wilcox, president of the Urban Bulldogs Against Kids Abuse, told told Global before the verdict was announced.

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